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Quote mining

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Quote mining is the practice of quoting out of context, sometimes referred to as a logical fallacy known as "contextomy". It is a type of false attribution in which a passage is removed from its surrounding matter in such a way as to distort its intended meaning."[1]

Accusations of creationists

Creationists have been frequently accused of quote mining by atheists and anticreationists in general. The Wikipedia article entitled Fallacy of quoting out of context is one such example. Most accusations of Creationists quoting "out of context" stem from the fact that evolutionists occasionally tend to be honest in their reporting of the facts, but simultaneously disagree with the implications thereof, and that they don't wish their quotes to be published without the disclaimer that they disagree with what they've said. This is not the definition of a quote mine, however, as a quote mine is when someone's words are presented in such a way to mean something which they did not intend to say. No Creationist quote does this, of course; they simply leave unstated the plainly obvious fact that the evolutionist doesn't agree with the implications of the facts--nonetheless, when they report them, it is entirely honest to present them just as they are without disclaimers, as the reader shall see below.

When these accusations are examined in context it is easy to demonstrate that the Biblical Creationist or other scholarly non-evolutionist were not not misquoting their source. The body of this work will compare "quote mines" alongside larger quotes of the text in full context to demonstrate that the quotes are not, in fact, taken out of context at all, whether the quotes are long or truncated.

It is imperative to realize that even if someone disagrees with something they've said, that does not make their previous statement false. For example, one could state that "Dogs are mammals, and cats are mammals. Both have fur and give birth to live young," while claiming that that quote is taken out of context, because in the very next sentence it was said that "...but nonetheless, I am fully convinced that dogs are actually fish, and I believe science will resolve this in the future." Does the author's intended meaning of the first two sentences change based on his personal opinion? No, it does not. Many, if not all, of the evolutionists' claims of quote mining are resolved in exactly the same way as the above example.

Examples of False Claims of Quote Mining

Stephen Jay Gould on intermediate forms

The fossil record with its abrupt transitions offers no support for gradual change. All paleontologists know that the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms; transitions between major groups are characteristically abrupt ~Stephen Jay Gould [2]

To the reader: what does this quote say?

  • He refers to the fossil record, which is understood to mean the entirety thereof. In reference to this entire record, he states that it "offers no support for gradual change." So, his claim is that the entire fossil record, by virtue of "ts abrupt transitions," refutes the concept of slow and gradual evolution. It is well known that Gould believes in Punctuated Equilibrium.
  • He then states that "All paleontologists know that the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms..." The obvious, straightforward, plain reading of this sentence would indicate that, whatever the definition of "intermediate form" is, the fossil record contains "precious little" of them. Referring to the Talkorigins Glossary, it is clear that an intermediate form is defined as follows:
A fossil or modern species that displays characters definitive of two or more different taxa or that displays characters morphologically intermediate between two different taxa. The existence of intermediate forms is a prediction of common descent. An intermediate is not necessarily a common ancestor or even an actual ancestor of a modern species. For example, the intermediate species Archaeopteryx displays characters definitive of two different taxa (e.g. dromaeosaur dinosaurs and birds), yet Archaeopteryx is probably not an ancestor of modern birds.[3]

Aside from the poor example, note how the evolutionist defines an intermediate form. It is simply an organism that happens to have certain traits that correspond to one (arbitrarily defined) evolutionary taxa, and other traits that correspond to another. As yet, Gould has not defined what kind of taxa, be it species, genus, family, order or phyla. When we look at his last sentence, we see what he meant:

  • Gould states that "transitions between major groups are characteristically abrupt..." That is to say, then, that major groups, as defined by evolutionists, have no gradual changes between them represented in the fossil record. So what does Gould mean by major groups? (This is very important to determine, because a very central theme with evolutionists is their insistence upon redefining terms to mean what they want them to. So it is important to not assume what a major group is using logic and common sense, but is imperative to go to an evolutionary website (as we did above with intermediate forms) to determine the definition for major groups that Gould would likely have been referring to.
    • When we search major groups evolution in Google, we find two hits for Wikipedia. Considering that this article is responding to a Wikipedia article, it is fair to use Wikipedia as the standard by which we analyze our opponent's argument. The Wikipedia link Animal defines the Kingdom Animalia as a major group in the opening sentence: "Animals are a major group of mostly multicellular, eukaryotic organisms of the kingdom Animalia or Metazoa." So in this case it seems that a major group is referring to a Kingdom classification. In the link Evolution of Mammals, judging by the use of Orders in the phylogenetic trees, it appears that a major group of mammals would be considered an Order.
    • Taken together, it seems that a major group of organisms would be considered a Kingdom, whereas a major group of a Class--such as mammals--would be considered an Order.[4]
    • Based on this information, it seems that Gould would have been talking about anything ranging from Orders to Kingdoms when he spoke of major groups in his quote, but to give him the benefit of the doubt we'll assume that he was talking about Orders. The plain reading of the text, then, leads one to the understanding that Mr. Gould meant to say that there are no (or "few" in his opinion) examples of organisms in the fossil record demonstrating a transition from one Order of Animals to another Order, by virtue of possessing characteristics of both Orders.

Gould is therefore plainly stating that there is no evidence for gradual change of organisms from one order to another in the evolutionary taxonomical classification system.

So what does the Wikipedia article next say?

The context that immediately follows demonstrates that this view is articulated only in order to reject it:
Although I reject this argument (for reasons discussed in ["The Episodic Nature of Evolutionary Change"]), let us grant the traditional escape and ask a different question.[2]

Recall the example in the introduction to this page? Does the agreement or disagreement of Gould's opinion with his statement have any bearing on the truth or falsity of his previous quote?

He can reject the argument for whatever reason he wants, but by rejecting it he DOES NOT invalidate it as an argument. It still exists, and can't be done away with simply by disagreeing with it.

The next part is convoluted and bears close scrutiny so as to see what is really going on here:

Gould was scathing on such misleading quotations:
"Since we proposed punctuated equilibria to explain trends, it is infuriating to be quoted again and again by creationists -- whether through design or stupidity, I do not know -- as admitting that the fossil record includes no transitional forms. The punctuations occur at the level of species; directional trends (on the staircase model) are rife at the higher level of transitions within major groups."[5]

Was it really misleading? Was there any part in our dissection of his short quote above where we engaged in any sort of twisting of his words? Quite the opposite; we used known standards of scholarly investigation to investigate the grammar, syntax, and definitions of the words used in order to determine the meaning, and we can be confident that we arrived at the correct understanding.

Note what Gould says:

  • Quote 1: "The fossil record with its abrupt transitions offers no support for gradual change. All paleontologists know that the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms; transitions between major groups are characteristically abrupt..."
  • Quote 3: "[I did not admit] that the fossil record includes no transitional forms."

Let the reader be the judge!

Again, for emphasis:

  • Quote 1: "the fossil record contains precious little in the way of intermediate forms; transitions between major groups are characteristically abrupt..."
  • Quote 3: " directional trends (on the staircase model) are rife at the higher level of transitions within major groups."

Oh, really? Either Mr. Gould has been caught contradicting himself or the English language has suddenly ceased to be a viable mode of intelligible communication!

Mr. Gould or his minions will surely nit-pick about the difference between the words "between" and "within" in the two quotes above, seeking a way out of being caught in a lie. But stop for a second, and ask this question: if there are no changes between taxonomic groups, how will changes within taxonomic groups solve the problem?

No organism in one phylum has ever been observed reproducing offspring that happen to belong to a different phylum. Such things do not happen, not even in the evolutionists' strange world. Not only that, but Gould said, "The punctuations occur at the level of species", meaning that there are gaps between species that are supposedly related. If there are gaps between species, then there must be gaps between Genera, because the Genera CONTAIN the species. If there are gaps between Genera due to the gaps between species, then there must be gaps between Families because the Families CONTAIN the Genera and the species (where the "punctuations occur," according to Gould). And so on and so on. So, since higher levels, such as Orders, Classes, Phylae and Kingdoms ALL CONTAIN the subset of species, then they must be rife with tons of "punctuations" (e.g. gaps/holes) between AND within themselves.

Gould has talked himself into a corner here, and there is no way out. It is this author's persuasion that the quote of Gould is not misquoted, because it has been presented with the intended meaning intact. That Mr. Gould is disappointed that it contradicts his personal beliefs is of no concern to the Creationist, and so if the reader encounters anyone attempting to pander off this line of thinking, they should at least be aware that they could point out that the opinions of the scientist do nothing to alter the reality of the facts.∎

"Absurd in the highest degree"


  1. Engel, Morris S., With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies (1994), pp. 106-107 ISBN 0-312-15758-4
  2. 2.0 2.1 Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda's Thumb, 1980, p. 189, cited as Quote 41, The Quote Mine Project, TalkOrigins Archive
  3. The TalkOrigins Archive. 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: Glossary, by Douglas Theobald, 2003. Retrieved 2:08 pm Sun October 10, 2010
  4. The information on both Wikipedia articles was retrieved at 2:30 pm on Sun October 10, 2010.
  5. Evolution as Fact and Theory Science and Creationism, Stephen Jay Gould, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), p. 124.